Thursday, February 26, 2009

Preparing a Place for God

This Lenten season, rather than taking something out of my life to observe this 40 day journey – I have added to my life. I've taken on two separate daily devotions for the journey – both of which give me something to think about each day. If discipline in the spiritual life is "the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance," then a discipline of adding more devotion time seems quite appropriate. I hope my Lenten discipline will create flexible boundaries "that keep time and space open for God – a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to." I feel like this is a much better use of my time than taking French fries or soda out of my life. How is the absence of fast food going to help me grow closer to God?

Today I'm mostly intrigued by the writings of Thomas Merton. He introduces the notion of compunction.

"Compunction is a baptism of sorrow, in which the tears of the penitent are a psychological but also deeply religious purification, preparing and disposing him [or her] for the sacramental waters of baptism or for the sacrament of penance. Such sorrow brings joy because it is at once a mature acknowledgment of guilt and the acceptance of its full consequences: hence it implies a religious and moral adjustment to reality, the acceptance of one's actual condition. The acceptance of reality is always a liberation from the burden of illusion that we strive to justify by our errors and our sins. Compunction is a necessary sorrow, but it is followed by joy and relief because it wins for us one of the greatest blessings: the light of truth and the grace of humility. The tears of the Christian penitent are real tears, but they bring joy."

My first thought – is what the heck is compunction? I thought I had a pretty good vocabulary base – but then again – there's always room for more. Compunction being regret, reluctance, guilt or hesitation seems scary to me. I've always said I don't like to live with regrets – only learning experiences – so the idea that I need to live with a certain amount of regret seems terrifying. But I'm thinking compunction is something different: to regret doing something because of its negative outcome – but still committing to learn from the experience – not simply wishing it hadn't happened. By saying I live without regrets – I've been striving to justify an illusion – which has become a burden. It's not that I've ignored my wrongdoings – but I realize now that trying to live completely without regrets is a bad thing. Without acknowledging the negative effect something has had on your life – how can you really rectify the occurrence or change your behavior for the better? By fully acknowledging the wrong-doing, either to yourself, towards God, or toward another, you are liberating yourself from the illusion that it didn't happen, or that it wasn't as bad as others say it was. It's a matter of cleansing yourself from the burden – not simply ignoring it because you don't want to have regrets. I pray that God would bestow God's grace upon me, so that life's disappointments, and my regrets, will bring out the best in me and not the worst. I pray that by admitting my regrets, and cleansing them from my life – I will allow for God to move more fully in my life, that I might be preparing a place for God. Amen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Season of Celebration

As we begin this Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, you may wonder why I've suggested we are beginning a season of celebration. After all, Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day to remind us of the ways in which we are not living fully into our relationship with God, to remind us of our own humanity and our eternal need for God, and to remind us of that word we dread so much – to remind us of our sinfulness. As Protestants – and especially as Disciples – the word "SIN" scares most of us. It scares most of us because it requires that we admit we are not fully capable of always doing the right thing, of not always putting God first in our lives, that we have failed at fully embracing the mystery of God in our lives. I also don't like the word sin – because it implies that something is out of my control – and yes I'm a bit of a control freak. I think mostly though it scares us, because as we admit sin, we feel like we have to admit consequence as well. And while I feel comfortable admitting my own faults, my own sins, and pointing out the sins of our culture and the world around us – I would be lying if I said I wasn't troubled by the notion of consequence.

We live in a culture with strong notions of "justice," (the notion of justice is for another blog) and full of equations in which if a wrong-doing is committed – a consequence or a price of equal value must be paid. There are TV shows that thrive off this notion – Miami Vice, Columbo, NYPD Blue, Law and Order (all 14 versions), CSI (all 5 versions), Bones, Without a Trace – I could go on and on. Someone commits an offense and the show is dedicated to making sure that someone pays a price.

We've lived in this culture for a long, long time, and it's hard push our minds out of that culture and wrap our minds around a God whose eternal love no longer demands a price (of death or anything else) to be paid for our sin. While there are many definitions of sin: transgression of divine law, a reprehensible or regrettable action or behavior, offense against principle or standard, deliberate disobedience to the known will of God, a condition of estrangement from God resulting from disobedience, something regarded as shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong, I would like to offer my favorite description of sin. It comes from a book called, "Crazy Talk: A Not-so-stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms." Crazy Talk identifies sin as two things: 1. Why people suck, and 2. How people suck.

Sin is what is at work in the background of all the reasons we as humans suck, and how we suck, it is the background of the universal human condition known variously as self-centeredness, ego, or other more or less clinical, casual or caustic term. In short: we suck.

People suck at being human the way God intends humans to be because we are sinful. It is the state of who we are, the condition we are stuck in.

I'm not going to resort to saying that sin entered the world when two beings ate a piece of fruit from a tree. But I also won't say that God made us sinful. I will say that God made us human, made us mortal, and made us imperfect. Yes, God created all things, including humans, and called it all GOOD, but God never called us all perfect. If we were perfect, wouldn't we be God?

Because we are human, because we are mortal, because we are imperfect by the nature of our being, by the nature of our NOT being divine and eternal, we must deal with and resist this condition of sin. As our root problem, as our biggest sin, I argue that we are constantly denying the presence of our God who is fully present, who has been fully present in our past, who continues to be in our present time, and who will continue to be present in our future, throughout all eternity. Hence that steadfastness and eternal part about God. J The cause of all our individual sins, is that we continually fail to acknowledge God's presence, refuse to see God's presence, and act accordingly. We commit individual sins when we continually deny God's presence in our lives. We live as if God were not with us every moment of every day, and live as if we could hide from God. Did Jonah and the whale teach us nothing?!

As this favorite book of mine continues, we use SIN – or some derivative thereof because we are afraid of that actual word – "to describe the individual moments in which we all go about our sucking. Because of sin (the condition of sucking), we sin (we do things that suck). We commit individual sins in thousands of ways every day."

So again Laura – how is this ever so uplifting blog supposed to remind us that we are entering a season of celebration?

Because as we acknowledge our own sinfulness, or for those who are afraid to say the word SIN – our own suckingness – we also allow God to enter our lives. While we acknowledge our own mortality, our on inabilities, our own imperfections, we are also admitting and acknowledging the eternity of God, the infiniteness of God, the perfection of God. Thank you Plato, the duality of our lives helps us to recognize the opposite side of the coin. While we are imperfect, God is perfect, while we are finite, God is infinite. While we are temporary, God is eternal. While we are apathetic, God is love. While we are indifferent, God is faithful.

We don't start out this season of Lent reminding ourselves of all our problems and all the bad things about ourselves just to make us feel terrible and depressed. We acknowledge these things, because it helps to remind us of the flip side of the coin. In death there is resurrection. In a desolate winter, there is a lively spring. In intense sorrow, joy patiently waits. In pain, healing breaks through. From despair, hope arises.

We are not entering a season of punishment, but rather a season of healing, in which we celebrate the many things God brings to our lives, and the many ways in which we need God in our lives. We celebrate the healing that will occur. As we expose our wounds and our scars, we are making room for God's healing love and healing presence in our lives. As we make ourselves vulnerable through confession and repentance, we cast off those things and make room for God's Spirit to move within us. As we see one side of the coin, let us turn it over. Let us celebrate.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Future Plans

Just as a clarification - and since I've been getting asked this question a lot - I thought I might explain my plans for the next few months.

March 1st I will preach my last sermon at Woodland Christian Church, and depart with love and support from a congregation that has nurtured me from my first days in seminary. And while I am definitely sad to go - I am also very excited for what is to come.

March 7th I will be moving most, if not all, of my stuff into "storage." A friend of mine has a rather large parsonage that she is not using, and has agreed to let me store my things there until this summer.

March 9th I will be departing for New Zealand for 15 days and couldn't be more excited! As many of you know I lived in New Zealand for 7 months when I was at Mizzou and would go back in a heart beat! My New Zealand brother is getting married - so almost all of the Phillips clan is making it down there for that amazing celebration!

March 23rd I will return to the United States jet lagged and wishing I knew what day it was - but will hopefully have some time to relax. At this point I do not have a job lined up with a new congregation - but have been in the Search and Call process for almost three months. For a few weeks, starting March 23rd, I will be living with a friend in her guest bedroom and trying to continue the job search. Should nothing open up by mid-late April I may choose at that point to move back to Kansas City temporarily while I wait for a call.

I made this decision, because I believe in the Search and Call process, and it seems as if it is working already. While it's not working as fast as I would have hoped - I know I'm learning a lesson in patience ;) It would be silly for me to automatically move all my things and life back to Kansas City on March 7 for a couple of reasons. One, I would have to pay for a storage unit for who knows how long, but mainly I would be moving my life 600 miles west, not knowing why. What if something comes about and I end up having to move my life 1200 miles back the same direction I came - when I could have simply left my life here in Lexington for a while.

While its not ideal and I will technically be living out of suitcases for about two months - it seems to me the best option. I trust in the Search and Call process and trust that something will come up in the next few months. Even if I don't have a job secured for May 1st or anything like that - I trust that God will lead me in the right direction if I just listen closely and discern where it is that God is leading me. So in the mean time - while I sit and try to listen for God's direction - I wanted to try and do so with as little clutter and craziness as possible. So staying here in Lexington seems to be the way that will happen.

As always if you've heard of any job openings - please pass on my name, and to me their information. ;)

Maybe this time of transition will be a time in which I can visit friends and catch up with long lost friends. But whatever it is - I know I'm looking forward to the adventures God has in store for me!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I again have to preface this by saying - this is by no means written in response to any one person - to any one relationship - or to anyone I have been dating. There was/is no one in my mind when I was writing this...I was merely going through my blog editing something things and deleting some things and thought I would ponder these things once again...

I posted this almost 4 years ago... Valentine's Day 2005... but I think it's still fitting.

From the words of Carrie Bradshaw, "At what point does the art of compromise, become compromising?"
I know relationships require compromise. And I know that relationships are going to change me, at least a little bit - even the short term relationships have the ability to change you. But at what point in a relationship do you see yourself compromising so much that you're not necessarily yourself anymore? And if and when you hit that point, how do you know if that is a good change, or a bad change? Maybe the "yourself" you thought of all along, is not really the person you wanted to be, and that you are creating a new self while you are with this person you call your partner? Or maybe you're holding yourself back because you don't want to change, afraid that you'll change too much for that one person? Or maybe you'll just change too much in general - from what you were? Is change in these situations always bad? I mean at someone point - part of the reason you are in a relationship is because you like who you are with that other person. At the same time - we often become people we don't like when we're in a relationship. Surely there's a formula for the amount of change you do in a relationship before you do or do not like yourself ;) At some point, there is definitely somebody worth changing for. If you are not who you want to be, and that one person comes along - romantic or otherwise - we often attribute hard life changes to the support and care of others. With that - How do you decide if that one person is the right person you are supposed to be changing and compromising for? And if you have to ask yourself all these questions, is any of it really worth it?

And as I was finishing typing this blog - I only thought it fate that the radio started to play "I'm Still a Guy" by Brad Paisley - check out the lyrics ;)

When you see a deer you see Bambi and I see antlers up on the wall.
When you see a lake you think picnics and I see a largemouth up under that log.
You're probably thinkin' that you're gonna change me.
In some ways well maybe you might.
Scrub medown, dress me up, oh but no matter what remember I'm still a guy.
When you see a priceless French painting I see a drunk naked girl.
You think that riding a wild bull sounds crazy and I'd like to give it a whirl.
Well love makes a man do some things he ain't proud of
and in weak moment I might walk your sissy dog, hold your purse at the mall but remember I'm still a guy.
I'll pour out my heart, hold your hand in the car, write a love song that makes you cry.
Then turn right around knock some jerk to the ground 'cause he copped feel as you walk by.
I can hear you now talkin' to your friends sayin',
"Yeah girls he's come a long way from draggin' his knuckles and carryin'a club and buildin' a fire in a cave."
But when you say a back rub means only a back rub then you swat my hand when I try.
Well now what can I say at the end of the day,"Honey, I'm still a guy."
These days there's dudes gettin' facials, manicured, waxed and botoxed.
With deep spray-on tans and creamy lotiony hands you can't grip a tackle box.
Yeah, with all of these men linein' up to get neutered it's hip now to be feminized.
I don't highlight my hair, I've still got a pair. Yeah, honey I'm still a guy.
Oh my eyebrows ain't plucked there's a gun in my truck.
Oh thank god, I'm still a guy.

Monday, February 09, 2009

25 Things... I finally gave in... my brain needed a break today!

I finally decided to do this after receiving 14 millions "tags" in other people's to do it....

25 things you may not have known about me

1. I lived in New Zealand for 7 months in 2002 and I’m headed back there four weeks from today!

2. I loathe feet – do not touch me with yours – but yes I want you to rub mine. (See #5 for the reason)

3. I spent my 24th birthday touring the concentration camps Auschwitz/Birkenau, followed by an inability to have a drink at dinner because the Pope was also in Poland, followed by a night in an Arab Sheesha bar (yep still in Poland).

4. A couple of times, I worked as a waitress for a "state" dinner in New Zealand. It was at the home of the Ambassador from Mexico to New Zealand and his many Ambassador guests. I suppose I might have started World War III because I screwed up on who to serve third or fourth based on their gender and matter of importance. There were a couple other occasions....

5. I danced for a professional ballet company for four years until I had to decide whether I wanted to pursue ballet as a professional career or have a “normal” college career.

6. I’ve gone parasailing, bungee jumping and sky diving but I’m terrified of heights

7. Not only was I in band all throughout Middle, Junior and High School – but I was the leader of the band nerds – because I was the drum major.

8. I’ve worked in a tanning salon, as a hostess, a server, a nanny, a cashier in a grocery store, in a video department, in a prosthetics and orthotics office, in the salad bar department at another grocery store, the director of a nannying service, in jewelry store, at a day care, as a camp staff counselor and at a church. This is the FIRST time in my life since I’ve started working that I’ve only had ONE job at a time.

9. I have had six oral surgeries including oral plastic surgery and have artificial teeth – no they do not come out....anymore.

10. I once had my belly button pierced, but it was ripped out when I was on a mission trip in Mexico and got caught on my work belt – needless to say I have a HUGE scar from the inability to wash it with very much clean water.

11. One of my favorite traveling memories was staying in a thatch-roof hut in Fiji with a hose on a hook for water/shower, no electricity and a mattress, one sheet and a mosquito net for a bed. We stayed up and watched the sunrise - ate fresh fruit and slept in a hammock until the sun went down - repeat.

12. I completed both of my bachelor's degrees in four years (total-not each) and just finished my master of divinity!

13. I’m a walking contradiction: I love to get my nails done, have shoe fetish, try to be stylish, wear make-up and was a sorority girl – but I also like to camp, backpack, watch sports, know how to change my own tire, use tools, will get those nails dirty or broken, and can be without luxuries like toilets and showers without complaint.

14. I secretly want to own my own motorcycle – I’ve never driven one, just ridden lots – I am honestly afraid the motorcycle would fall over if I tried to drive it

15. I can’t believe I’m admitting this but my nicknames include - Narna, Laurda Lou, Willobird, Blondie, LP and now recently Lala

16. I LOVE WINE (not out of a box or Arbor Mist either) – but I also like all kinds of beer and can handle a large variety of mixed drinks – No I’m not an alcoholic.

17. I once swam in a lake fed only by glaciers – it was so cold my fingers and toes shrank and I lost my toe rings - and a toe - ok not really - but that would have been a cooler fact ;)

18. I’m an ordained minister – meaning my friends no longer ask me to be IN their weddings – but perform them – which I’m happy to do ;)

19. I think it’s absolutely unacceptable that a man does not own jumper cables, cannot jump a car, cannot change a flat tire, does not know how to check ALL fluids or add fluids if necessary, won’t wash their own car by hand, or can’t handle taking their car to the shop without getting screwed over. My dad taught me all these things before I was allowed to get my license – a man should be able handle these things.

20. I love cold coffee – and it doesn’t have to be the sugary/creamy kind – but I only kind of like hot coffee.

21. I’ve visited 30 USA States, Mexico, Belize, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Poland, Great Britain, Greece and Turkey and want to max out my passport (is that possible?)

22. I love to watch sports (real sports – not poker or Nascar) – and Hooters is a great place to do so. I LOVE their wings and could care less about the women or why they are working there – or what other men/women think of me for liking that place. I go there for the food and the sports.

23. I was recently with my best friend at the moment that she died – it was the most surreal and divine experience I’ve ever had.

24. I am the youngest of three, a daddy’s girl, and have him wrapped around my pinky finger although I do my best to NOT take advantage of that.

25. I have moved 14 times since August of 2000 and am getting ready to make SOME kind of move at the end of February AND March.